Dienstag, 23. August 2016

LAND 400 updates and thoughts

Early in August, Australia announced that the DoD had chosen to shortlist the Boxer CRV and the AMV 35 CRV for the LAND 400 Phase 2 project to replace the outdated ASLAV wheeled fighting vehicle as "Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle" (CRV) of the Australian Army. This effectively eliminated the LAV (CRV) and Sentinel II (Terrex 3 with Elbit MT-30 turret) from the tender. 225 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles are expected to be purchased by Australia.

The Boxer CRV from Rheinmetall/ARTEC is the high-end solution. It supports the largest gross vehicle weight and is the only vehicle meeting the higher protection level demanded by the Australian Army (STANAG 4569 level 6/6+). It was one of only two candidates offered with an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher and an active protection system (APS). Compared to the Sentinel II, it's missile launcher is dampened, so that a long-term storage of the missile inside the launcher is possible. It is also the only vehicle that has been fitted with an remote weapon station (RWS) ontop of the turret. The Boxer's Lance turret can be equipped with either a 30 mm or 35 mm autocannon, offering a greater versatility than all other offerings.
The US company Northrop Grumman is responsible for integrating their C4ISR equipment into the Boxer CRV. C4ISR stands for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The British Supacat will assure that the Boxer CRV meets the AIC requirements and will help Rheinmetall set up the corresponding facilities in Australia. The Australian industry capability (AIC) requirements for LAND 400 demand local facilities for development, manufacturing and support of the vehicles with a long-term impact on the capabilities of Australia's industry.

The Patria AMV 35 CRV is offered by Patria in cooperation with BAE System. It mounts the E35 turret (from the CV9035) ontop of a Patria AMV chassis. Compared to all offerings it is the most proven solution, combining a combat proven chassis with a combat proven turret. On the downside however the currently known prototypes of the AMV 35 CRV happen to have the least amount of advanced features compared to all other original contenders for LAND 400 Phase 2. It currently has no APS, albeit Rheinmetall's ADS has been fitted to some AMVs for international defence exhibitions. The Ukranian Zaslon APS was proposed in a special lightweight version for the Polish Rosomak (a version of the Patria AMV with the HITFIST turret from Oto Melara). Currently there is not a single type of ATGM launcher available for the E35 turret, the development of such a launcher has to be funded by the Australian Army. The current prototypes seem to lack an remote weapon station. Bofors Lemur RWS was offered on the CV9035 for the Canadian Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) project, but this combination has not been adopted by another country. While different versions of the Combat Vehicle 90 have been fitted with Kongsberg's Protector RWS, this has not been installed on a CV9035 with E35 turret yet.
The biggest benefit of the Patria AMV is that it is supposedly a lot cheaper than the Boxer. Polish-made AMVs have been sold for as low as $1.1 million per vehicle to Slovakia. Meanwhile the Lithuanian Boxer IFVs costs more than €4.4 milion per piece (although the contract probably includes development and support costs).

The Patria AMV 35 CRVshould be considered a cheap, but less capable option compared to the Boxer. The Boxer CRV is the "we put everything possible in the vehicle" solution, while the AMV 35 CRV seems to be based on a more reasonable cost-to-benefit ratio. However, aside of lower armor and lack of advanced features, there are a few more aspects about the proposal from Patria and BAE that are not so ideal. Not offering the latest configuration of the AMVXP, but an older chassis with only 30 metric tons of payload (still three more than the original 8x8 AMV could handle) is sub-optimal for a vehicle meant to stay in service for several decades to come. The commander's indepent optronics are integrated into the cupola, making hunter-killer options possible, but more cumbersome than utilizing a proper panoramic sight like the Boxer CRV or the Sentinel II. 

Some people are wondering why General Dynamics didn't offer the newer Piranha 5 vehicle instead of the LAV (CRV), which is based on the LAV 6.0 upgrade for the Canadian Army. The LAV 6.0 is based on the old LAV-III fitted with current upgrades including a new suspension.

However supposedly one of the main points of criticism of General Dynamics LAV (CRV) was the unmanned turret: the LAV (CRV) was fitted with the Kongsberg's Protector Medium Calibre Turret 30 (MCT-30), the only pure unmanned turret offered for the LAND 400 Phase 2. An unmanned turret offers reduced situational awareness and lower ergonomics compared to a manned two-men turret. This is very important, because the Protector MCT-30 is the same turret used on most Piranha 5 infantry fighting/scout vehicle prototypes to this day.
In so far there is reason to assume that a hypothetical Piranha 5 CRV also would have been fitted with the MCT-30, when offered to Australia for the LAND 400 Phase 2. So it would have been disliked by the Australian Army aswell. The MCT-30 turret can only be armored up to STANAG 4569 level 4, thus this most likely Piranha 5 CRV configuration still fails to meet the protection level required for the LAND 400 Phase 2.
In general the MCT-30 turret also provides less features than the options offered by Rheinmetall and Elbit/ST Kinetics. While the unmanned turret has been presented on a number of different defence expositions fitted with a single Javelin ATGM without dedicated launcher unit, this is understood to be a mere mock-up and no ready-for-production feature. Furthermore the SAAB LEDS hardkill active protection system has been fitted on soome Piranha 5 prototypes with MCT-30 turret. This APS provides some advantages over the Iron Fist LC system fitted to the Sentinel II (in particular it has three times as much countermeasures in the launchers ready-to-fire), but also comes with it's own unique disadvantages. The launchers are very tall which impacts the ability to travel under bridges and in tunnels, while they also reduce situational awareness by blocking parts of the field of view of turret-mounted sights.

The only manned turret that has been fitted to the Piranha 5 is Rheinmetall's LANCE modular turret system on a prototype for the Canadian Close Combat Vehicle program. This program penultimately resulted in the creation of the LAV 6.0, after the budget for purchasing new vehicles was cut. While there is no actual proof for this, it seems possible to assume that Rheinmetall won't be interested in cooperating with General Dynamics and won't let GD use the Lance turret.

The Steyr SP-30 turret
General Dynamics itself is not producing many turrets suited for the Piranha. While there is the old Delco turret (developed by GM Defence, a company acquired by General Dynamics) used on existing vehicles of the LAV family, this turret is outdated, undergunned and barely protected compared to the Australian requirements. Hence this turret is not suited for LAND 400. Aside of the Declo turret, GM Defence developed a number of other turrets before being acquired by General Dynamics, but none of them ended up being used on a series vehicle.
The only medium calibre manned turret that General Dynamics currently has on offer is the Steyr SP-30 turret of the ASCOD infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). This turret is armed with a 30 mm autocannon (just like the Kongsberg MCT-30 turret) and can be fitted with ceramic armor for protection against 30 mm AP(FS)DS from 1,000 metres (essentially STANAG 4569 level 6 protection, however this standard didn't exist at the time of the SP-30's development). The base turret offers only protection against 14.5 mm API ammunition. However there is a major problem within GD's decision making that rendered this option pretty much impossible: by favoring marketing the existing Piranha family - even the older models - instead of also pushing the slightly more modern Pandur II family of vehicles, together with General Dynamics strategy to encourage local licence-production of the Pandur II (probably done in order to evade the higher wages and taxes in Austria), General Dynamics started the downfall of the Vienna-based Steyr-Daimler-Puch company. With little to no design and manufacturing capabilities for Steyr turrets left (the adoption of the Lance turret for the Scout-SV Ajax says a lot), General Dynamics seems to have pretty much lost capabilities to produce an IFV or CRV based on military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) components on it's own. 
Even if a version of SP-30 was an option for LAND 400, General Dynamics still would suffer from a prominent lack of certain key technologies: the turret has only been fitted with Rheinmetall's MK 30-2 autocannon, which is a gas-powered weapon system - unlike the electrical-driven Mk. 44 Bushmaster II chain gun from Aliant Techsystems. Thus if Rheinmetall decided to not cooperate with General Dynamics, there would be issues as the externally-powered Bushmaster II will require more internal volume. Also the fire control system of the Ulan (the Austrian ASCOD version) relied on thermal imagers supplied by the Israeli company Elbit, which teamed up with ST Kinetics to offer the Sentinel II to Australia. Another blocking options for the competition.

Depending on source the Piranha 5 has a maximum gross vehicle weight of 32 or 33 metric tons, although the original press release from the reveal of this vehicle speaks only of a maximum 30 metric tons. It seems that the higher maximum weight is the result of further improvments to drivetrain and suspension. Back when the Piranha 5 was chosen as the winning bid for the wheeled plattform of the British Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) project, the Piranha 5 version with the IOC (inital operational capability) demanded by the British Army was expected to have a combat weight of 26 metric tons. As the protection requirements of the British Army were less strict and their Piranha 5 version was expected to have a machine-gun-armed RWS instead of a medium calibre turret, it seems overall unlikely that the Piranha 5 chassis can accept STANAG 4569 level 6 armor with a manned turret. The heavier (and newer) Sentinel II wasn't able to meet the demanded STANAG 4569 level 6 protection at a gross vehicle weight of 35 metric tons.

In so far, even if General Dynamics had offered the Piranha 5 chassis and this was considered to be compatible with the MOTS requirements of the Australian Army, it most likely still wouldn't have been chosen. It offers less than the Boxer CRV (protection, firepower, payload, features), but is more expensive and less proven than the AMV 35 CRV. The main difference between a Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (emphasis on the combat) and a normal scout vehicle is being able to combat enemy units and arm or. Thisrequires protection and a turret armed with a gun capable of punching through opposing forces' armor. If the turret doesn't work as intended or does it's job badly - which apparently was the result of the Australian evaluation of the LAV (CRV)'s MCT-30 turret - the CRV concept will fail.
If a CRV is a concept of sense and reason is another topic, that won't be discussed here yet.

The Sentinel II was also rejected, despite being the second heaviest option after the Boxer CRV. It consisted of a MT30 turret mounted ontop of a Terrex 3, which itself is a Terrex 2 with increased payload. The Terrex 3 chassis  from ST Kinetics and the MT30 turret from Elbit Systems have revealed a number of unique and common shortcomings. Most importantly they are completely unproven at the time of the Australian down-selection, but it also suffers from relatively low protection (not being better armored than the five tonnes lighter Patria AMV with 35 mm gun turret). While the hull's armor can be improved by converting the turret into an unmanned configuration (with reduced protection), it still fails to meet the original LAND 400 Phase 2 requirements for protection. The supposedly poor reception of the Kongsberg MCT-30 unmanned turret also might imply a general dislike of unmanned turrets. This would mean that the Sentinel II was restricted to STANAG 4569 level 4 protection at best. The huge physical size of the Sentinel II, a result of it's Terrex-2 ancesty, meant that more surface needs to be armored, hence the gained protection per added is a bit smaller than on some of the other contenders.
The Sentinel II was meant to be an high-end offering, just like the Boxer CRV. The LAV (CRV) and AMV 35 CRV appear to be more budget oriented offerings, lacking some of the more advanced components for a lower price. Australia's choice of the AMV and Boxer seems to combine the better high-end vehicle with the better budget oriented vehicle, so that the changes to the budget still while deliver a good vehicle; if only the two bidders with the more expensive vehicles had been shortlisted, budget cuts could result in the end of the LAND 400 Phase 2 program. This way however, the most capable vehicle options remain open.
Aside of the aforementioned protection, the Sentinel II suffers from a number of minor and major drawbacks compared to the Boxer CRV, which is why it shouldn't be considerred the better high-end offer. The Sentinel II has no RWS options integrated into the vehicle. It also has only a non-dampened launcher for the Spike ATGMs. A non-dampened launcher does not stop the vibrations of the vehicle from being transported onto the missiles. Such vibrations can damage the the internal guidance electronics and thus prevent longer storage of the missiles in the launcher. Instead the missiles can only be loaden before a mission or during a mission. 
A further issue might be the Iron Fist LC's launcher configuration. The Iron Fist Light Configuration (LC) active protection system is located ontop of the turret and hence increases overall vehicle height, reducing the ability to travel through tunnels and under bridges. This apparently has been a concern for the LAND 400 program, at least Rheinmetall made sure that the commander's sight could be retracted and the RWS folded down, so that the vehicle height when traveling is barely affected by these components. A bigger drawback of Iron Fist LC is however the amount of ready-to-fire countermeasures and launchers. The system has only two launchers, each having two barrels for countermeasures. This means the APS can engage at most two threats at the same time (a simple solution for insurgents and soldiers would be to overpower the APS by attacking with three RPGs or ATGMs at the same time) and has to be reloaden after four engaged RPGs/ATGMs. While at least some versions of Rheinmetall's ADS can defeat EFPs, Iron Fist LC is incapable of doing so.

As reported by Jane's IHS, the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) is giving the two remaining bidders the flexibility to modify their proposals and utilize technology from further companies. The marketing manager of Rafael's land systems division, Yiftach Kleinman, claimed that the DoD might select sub-systems not chosen by any bidder and is confident about Rafael's products having a good chance of being accepted: in particular the Samson Mk. 2 remotely operated turret, the Trophy active protection system and the Spike ATGM would be of Australia's interest.
The Spike ATGM is understood to be favoured by the Australian Army and has already been integrated on both of the CRV prototypes fitted with ATGMs. However it seems extremely unlikely that the other systems from Rafael will be adopted. Trophy does not offer any performance advantages over Rheinmetall's ADS, SAAB's LEDS or the Iron Fist LC system from IMI - in fact the nature of Trophy's countermeasures (using multi-EFP warheads) and the launcher design (one single-countermeasure launcher per vehicle side; a launcher can only rotate by ~200° in the horizontal plane) make it appear considerable worse than all other menionted active protection systems.
The Samson Mark 2 RWS has been chosen by the Lithuanian Army for integration into their future Boxers. With Samson Mk 2 RWS the vehicle is called "Vilkas", Lithuanian for "wolf". However aside of having the same "unmanned" issues as found by the Australians on the LAV (CRV) with the Kongsberg Protector MCT-30 turret, the Samson Mark 2 RWS also suffers from poor armor protection and lower features compared to pretty much all other mentioned products. It is understood that the Lithuanian choice of the Samson Mk.2 RWS was the result of reducing the price of the vehicle, as they previously had tested the more expensive (and more capable) Boxer IFV with Puma turret. The Samson Mk. 2 turret can be at most armored up to STANAG 4569 level 4 and thus fails to meet the Australian requirements. It has the same type of non-dampened launcher as installed in Elbit's MT30 turret, but lacks it's laser warning system. There are no smoke grenade dischargers and there is no option for a MG armed RWS ontop of the turret. No APS has been integrated on the Samson Mark 2 turret.

Montag, 22. August 2016

First footage of the Karrar MBT

The Iran is working on a new main battle tank (MBT), which has been nick-named the Karrar MBT. While most details are unknown, first footage of the new MBT has been released on state-owned TV and found it's way onto the internet. According to the Iranian TV, the tank is supposed to be completely built and designed in Iran.

The tank appears to be very similar to the Russian T-90MS tank in terms of shape and layout; it features a welded hull and turret, which is protected by explosive reactive armor (ERA) and on the rear sections by slat armor. In fact the vehicles appear so similar, that the Karrar tank should be either a licence-made version of the T-90MS or an intentional attempt to copy it. Claims about the Karrar being a locally developed tank might be propaganda or be result of a planned licence-assembly (Iran already manufactured a number of T-72S tanks under licence.)
The tank has six roadwheels partially covered by the side skirts. These skirts have the same wave-pattern found on the T-90MS' side skirts, but currently found on no other Russian, Chinese or Ukrainian tank. Ontop of the side-skirts are two rows of flat ERA tiles, the engine compartment is protected by slat armor only.
The welded turret has a rhombus shape with a noticeable rear-extension, which in case of the T-90MS acts as external storage and is not accessable from the internal. The frontal arc of the tank is protected by very flush aligned ERA tiles, which in case of the T-90MS is the latest Relikt ERA and not the older Kontakt-5. The rear side section of the turret is protected by a flat layer of spaced composite armor, while the rear is only protected by slat armor.

There are a few differences between the Karrar and the T-90MS noticeable even in the low quality footage. The remote weapon stations (RWS) appears to be of a different type and is equipped with a larger machine gun (most likely a 12.7 mm or 14.5 mm HMG). It might not only replace the original RWS, but also the commander's independent sight, unless the placement of the latter was altered. There is also a new distinctive polygonial sleeve at the base of the gun barrel. This feature is not found on any T-90MS prototype.
Another apparent difference is the lack of additional fuel barrels at the rear of the hull. While this certainly could be a result of different doctrines (or the fuel barrels have been disconnected from the tank, after they were empty), this also could be another reason to assume that this tank is a copy of the T-90MS rather than the original.

Zulfiqar 3 tank
While using different technology, the Iranian Zulfiqar 3 tank (actully Zolfaqar would be a more correct name, but the tank has become known as Zulfiqar in the English-speaking internet) is known for intentionally resembling the US M1 Abrams tank.
This is supposed to be result of two different aspects: some sources claim that this way the Zulfiqar 3 tanks should be spared from US airstrikes (being mistaken for Abrams tanks by the pilots) or the US should suffer from higher amounts of friendly-fire incidents in case of attacking Iran. Other sources claim that the design similarities to the Abrams are the result of the Iran lacking knowledge in tank production and simply trying to copy the Abrams with the available technology, because it proved to be hugely successful against Iraqi tanks.

T-72 Khorramshahr
Regardless of being a copy or a licence-built variant, the main armament of the Karrar MBT is most likely a 125 mm smoothbore gun. The T-90MS is fitted with the improved 2A46M-5 tank gun; this is designed for enhanced barrel life and greater accuracy. Unlike the 2A46M, the gun has an internal chrome-plating, which increases the barrel life by the factor 1.7. The gun assembly includes two additional elements with rollers to take up some of the play. Together with other modficiations, this is claimed to reduce dispersion by 15% and thus increases the accuracy and range.
If the Karrar MBT is not a T-90MS, but an elaborate attempt to copy one, it most likely would be armed with the slightly worse 2A46M-2 gun, which has been used on the T-72S Shilden MBT. This gun is a bit less accurate and durable than the 2A46M-5. In terms of penetration power, both of these guns are build for an increased maximum chamber pressure of 650 MPa, compared to the 510 MPa of the earlier 2A46 and 2A46M tank guns used on the T-72M and T-72M1 (and encountered by the US military during Gulf War and Operation Iraq Freedom). Iran is known to produce the 3BM-42 "Mango" APFSDS, which is currently the most advanced APFSDS exported by Russia (despite being introduced in Soviet service in 1986). It uses a two-piece tungsten penetrator in a steel sheat to penetrate on average about 470-500 milimetres of steel armor at 2,000 metres distance. 
While the Mango APFSDS does fit into the T-72S and T-90MS - thus most likely also in the Karrar MBT - using longer APFSDS for increased armor penetration is only possible in the upgraded autoloader of the T-90MS.

T-72S Shilden
If the Karrar is in fact just a local designation for the T-90MS, it will result in a major upgrade to the capabilities of the Iranian Army and Revolutionary Guards. In some aspects the T-90MS tank is ahead of the current M1A2 SEP, in others at least on par and in some still worse. With modern ammunition and skilled crews, this tank could pose a serious threat even to current NATO MBTs.
If the Karrar is just a copy made to resemble the T-90MS however, the tank will probably be a failure. Not only is the Iranian industry still lacking behind in terms of capabilities compared to the current Russian, Chinese and NATO tanks, the production capacities are also too limited to produce a larger amount of tanks. Supposedly the amount of produced Zulfiqar tanks is highly limited, some sources claim that less than hundred Zulfiqars have been made. No version of the Zulfiqar is protected by ERA, while only the later versions have composite armor. In so far, the T-72S is probably the backbone of the tank force operated by the Iranian Army and Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Still large amounts of T-55/Type 59 tanks, Pattons and Chieftains have remained in service - some of them have been upgraded to Type-72Z Safirs, Mobarez tanks or to the Sabalan and Tiam configurations.

Until the Karrar MBT is ready, the most advanced tank in Iranian service might still be the T-72 Khorramshahr, a rare upgraded version of the T-72, featuring an Ukranian welded turret with Kontakt-5 ERA and a more modern fire control system than the T-72S. It is however a very rare tank, the numbers of T-72 tanks converted to T-72 Khorramshahr might be smaller than the production of the latest Zulfiqar 3 tank.

Sonntag, 14. August 2016

Challenger 2 upgrade proposals have been submitted

As reported by Jane's IHS, MilTechMag and DefenseNews.com, the offers for the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP) have been submitted by the industry to the British Army. The Challenger 2 LEP aims at upgrading the Challenger 2 main battle tank (MBT) to a more modern standard, so that it is competitive in the year 2025 and beyond (currently the CR2 is expected to remain in service until at least 2035). The official name for this project is "Armour (MBT) 2025". Meanwhile Germany and France are developing a next generation tank with a 130 mm tank gun and keep upgrading their existing Leopard 2 and Leclerc MBTs.
Originally a total of seven major American and European defence companies have answered the British request for upgrade proposals for the CR2. However the US-based General Dynamics (the manufacturer of the current M1 Abrams MBT) has decided to join the Team Challenger 2 lead by BAE Systems. BAE Systems acquired Vickers Defence Systems, the manufacturer of the Challenger 2 tank. The British MoD is planning to shortlist two bidders in 2016. On request of one unnamed bidder, the deadline for submitting the proposal has been moved by one month and the program was thus delayed. With the delay, the tender response date was moved the 11th August, after this the two most promising bids will be selected in the next weeks. Two contracts of £19 million (€22 million) are expected to be signed with the favoured bidders by end of October. In total the contract for upgrading of up to 227 CR2 tanks is expected to have a worth of up to £624 million (currently €722 million).

In a different contract the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has decided to let QinetiQ evaluate the German MUSS softkill active protection system (APS) for integration into the Challenger 2 tank and other British fighting vehicles. A decision to adopt a softkill APS on the Challenger 2 is scheduled for April 2018.

The German company Rheinmetall has made a few aspects of their initial upgrade proposal known in a press release. The company suggest not only replacing outdated components, but also enhance the tank's capabilities further. Upgrades to mobility and protection are further options. Rheinmetall has partnered with the British companies Supacat, Thales UK and BMT.

Seoss sight of the MBT Advanced Technology Demonstrator
The press release included a rendering of an upgraded Challenger 2 tank. The commander's main sight has been replaced by the Seoss stabilized electro-optical sighting system from Rheinmetall. This stabilized optronics include a dual-axis stabilized sensor head with a third generation SAPHIR thermal imager, a laser-rangefinder and a high resolution CCD camera. It is also fitted with an integrated fire control system. The Seoss sight enables a high accuracy even when the tank is moving against static and moving targets. The same sight system has been used on the MBT Revolution/Advanced Technology Demonstrator and on the Boxer CRV. It can be fitted with the Main Sensor Slaved Armament (MSSA) remote weapon station.
It is not clear if the gunner's primary sight has also been replaced with a version of the Seoss sight or the original Gunner's Primary Sight (GPS) from Pilkington Optronics (nowadays part of Thales UK) has been kept. The rendering still shows a distinctive box ontop of the gun mantlet, which used to house the Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight 2 (TOGS-2) on the original Challenger 2. This might imply that the TOGS-2 thermal sight was kept or upgraded, instead of being replaced by a single sight unit with integrated thermal imager. The rendering however does not show a flap in the armored box; it is not known wether this is result of the 3D model being poor or the TOGS-2 was actually replaced. 

A SAS module below a ROSY smoke grenade discharger
One single unit of Rheinmetall's Situational Awareness System (SAS) can be seen ontop of the turret. Most likely there are two or more SAS units, enough to provide a full 360° sensor coverage. Each unit contains three high definition sights (either day sight CCD cameras or uncooled thermal imagers), each set at 45° angle apart of eachother. Two SAS modules are required to provide a full 360° coverage of the surroundings either at day or night, four for a 360° sensor coverage with cameras and thermal imagers at the same time. The system is designed for easy integration in existing system thanks to an open architecture. It also features an automated warning system, which can be triggered by moving objects when enabled. Optional features of the SAS include automated mission recording, tracking and tracing, a sniper warning system (not installed in the rendering), laser warners (apparently installed) and the integration of SAS into existing fire control and battlefield management systems.  
Rheinmetall also offers the replacement of the outdated rifled Royal Ordnance L30 gun with it's current L/55 smoothbore gun with enhanced armor penetration. This gun would also enable the tank to fire programmable ammunition. 

Elbit Systems' COAPS commander's sight
Lockheed Martin UK has partnered with the Israeli company Elbit Systems for the Challenger 2 LEP. According to DefenseNews, this partnership was established just 24 hours before the deadline for the industry proposals. This is probably the result of Lockheed Martin's partner for upgrading the Warrior MICV, Thales UK, partnering with Rheinmetall. Given that Lockheed Martin's own technological portfolio, as previously noted, is the smallest of all bidding companies, they were forced to find a new partner.
Most likely the proposal from LM and Elbit will include the replacement of the sights with new models made by Elbit Systems. Most likely the commander's sight will be replaced by the Commander Open Architecture Panoramic Sight (COAPS) sight used on the Sentinel II and the TAM upgrade. This dual-axis stabilized sight includes a day sight CCD camera, a laser rangefinder and a latest generation thermal imager. The Pilkington Optronics Gunner's Primary Sight might be replaced with a similar device from Elbit Systems, possibly incorporating a thermal imager and thus allowing the removal of the gun-mounted TOGS-2 sight. Possible upgrade options include the Knight FCS (Elbit's FCS developed for the Merkava tanks) aswell as the Thermal Imaging Fire Control System (TIFCS), which Elbit developed as an upgrade option for existing vehicles.
Laser warning system from Elbit
Given that the last two international land vehicle projects from Elbit Systems included the adoption of a laser warning system, the Challenger 2 LEP proposal from Lockheed Martin UK and Elbit might aswell include the adoption of this system.

Earlier already CMI Defence announced their cooperation with the British company Ricardo UK. While CMI has experience with the manufacturing and upgrading of turret systems, Ricardo is one of the leading British companies in automotive and systems engineering. It is understood that this results in a separation of tasks: CMI Defence is responsible for upgrading the turret, while the hull is being upgraded by Ricardo UK. The latter company has been working with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) of the British Ministry of Defence on optimizing the drive- and powertrain of the Challenger 2 as part of obsolecence management studies. Ricardo has developed a tool set for accessing the effectiveness and costs of upgrades.
Not much details about CMI Defence's and Ricardo's proposal are known. It might include the adoption of the RUAG-designed Compact Tank Gun (CTG), for which CMI Defence has acquired a licence; however exact details on this licence are unkown and RUAG may be the only company offering said gun for the CR2 upgrade. CMI press releases for earlier products speak of a 120 mm smoothbore Cockerill high-pressure gun; if this is the name for the licence-made CTG or refering to another product has to be clarified.
Most likely the two companies will suggest replacing the sights and electronics, while also adding a new APU or upgrading the powerpack or drivetrain of the tank. CMI Defence has used optronics from different companies for their medium and large calibre turrets, but some of their latest products utilize sights from French manufacturer Safran. However Safran is cooperating with BAE Systems.

General Dynamics and BAE Systems have formed Team Challenger 2, while RUAG announced to cooperate with a group of UK-based industrial partners. The German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), the Leopard 2 manufacturer, has released no details of their upgrade proposal to the public yet, but it appears likely that KMW will rely on optronics supplied by Airbus Defence and Space (formerly Cassidian), which were also used on the current iterations of the Leopard 2 MBT and the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV).

Pound Sterling loosing worth, image by Stratfor
Given the BREXIT, there still should be a big question mark wether the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme will be futile. The negative impact on the UK economy is currently undeniable, despite the actual BREXIT still being a problem for the future. The British Army is already running other expensive modernization programs such as the procurement of the Scout SV (including the turreted AJAX variant), which is heavily relying on technology and components supplied by EU-based companies, and is also looking to acquire an 8x8 wheeled mechanized infantry vehicle (MIV). Pretty much all candidates rumored for the MIV are European products, which will be more likely affected by the BREXIT than other military procurements.

Montag, 1. August 2016

Israel presents new Eitan APC

The Eitan armored personnel carrier (APC) is a future addition to the inventory of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The Eitan is a wheeled 8x8 vehicle designed to replace the old US-made M113 APC as the main armored transport vehicle of the infantry. The development of the Eitan was announced in 2015.

The first prototype that was revealed is armed with two machine guns: a 12.7 mm M2 heavy machine gun (HMG) in a remote weapon station (RWS) behind the driver's hatch aswell a pinte-mounted FN MAG machine gun at the commander's hatch. It is powered by a 750 horsepower engine and can reach speeds up to 90 kilometres per hour, which is quite a bit less than average (Patria AMV, Boxer, VBCI, Terrex etc. usually reach above 100 kmph). Two banks of six smoke grenade dischargers each allow the Eitan to hide in dangerous situations. The Eitan will be fitted with the Trophy active protection system (APS) to defeat anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and RPGs - however the current prototype is not fittet with an APS yet. The Eitan carries up to twelve soldiers, including the commander, driver and the gunner. It can be fitted with different weapon stations and medium calibre turrets with armament up to 30-40 mm autocannons.

According to sources from the Eitan's announcement in 2015, the vehicle will be weighing less than 35 metric tons when fitted with an "advanced turret" of unknown nature. Current video interviews suggest a weight in the 30 to 35 tons range. This implies a lower weight and probably also lower protection level than the current Terrex 3/Sentinel II prototype or the latest version of the Boxer; it appears possible that it reaches ballistic protection in accordance with STANAG 4569 level 4 or 5. STANAG level 4 requires full armor protection against 14.5 mm API ammunition from close ranges, while level 5 requires additional protection against 25 mm APDS along the frontal arc.
The side of the Eitan's hull is protected by rather thin applique plates, which appear to be some sort of metal fitted with thin bolts. Ceramic armor is usually thicker and held by fewer, but larger bolts. This armor design is very reminiscient of the VBCI's armor, which consists of steel or titanium plates fitted with thin bolts onto the vehicle's aluminium hull. This again might imply a protection level comparable to STANAG 4569 level 4. The Eitan is expected to have a high level of mine and IED protection.

(Eitan video from SNAFU Solomon's blog)

The Eitan is meant to supplement the Namer, Merkava and the future Carmel vehicle. It is designed for lower costs than a Namer, and thus sacrifies some performance for being affordable. Supposedly it will cost only half as much as a Namer APC, although this is not fully confirmed. Series production is expected to start by 2020.
The Carmel is Israel's next generation tank still in development. It is being developed instead of a heavier Merkava Mark 5 tank and is meant to rely on active protection systems rather than passive armor. The expected weight of the Carmel is about 32 tons according to an earlier interview. The Merkava 4 tank will remain in production until at least 2020, when the Carmel and Eitan might be ready.

Montag, 25. Juli 2016

Merkava 4 with Fibrotex camouflage system

Photographs of a Merkava 4 main battle tank (MBT) fitted with a new camouflage system have been uploaded to the internet. Apparently this system is designed to reduce the tank's thermal, near-IR, and UV signature; it will also absorb a major part of the solar energy without transfering most of the heat onto the tank. This results in a lower interior temperature and thus greater crew comfort.

The thermal camouflage system is made by the Israeli company Fibrotex. It covers most of the roof area, the gun barrel and the sides of the hull except for a distinctive cut-out section for the engine exhaust vents. The thermal cover appears to have an outer layer made of some cloth-like material which is painted in some form of camouflage pattern in sand color and light brown tones. Thin straps cover the lower hull section at the sides and rear, which are apparently made out of a different material with a rubber-like texture. This material is probably elastic in order to not restrict the tank's mobility - it might in theory even be rubber.

Unlike competiting systems such as the Barracuda MCS from SAAB or the Solar Shield system from Rheinmetall, the surface of Fibrotex' material is rather smooth. In certain regions at least this might have a negative impact on the optical camouflaging characteristics of Fibrotex' camouflage design compared to the other system. The coverage of the tank also appears to be rather low, which specifically in combination with the camouflage pattern makes the current implementation of the thermal camouflage system on the Merkava 4 somewhat poor at actually hiding the tank. It has to be noted that the current Merkava tank versions as used by the IDF usually do not have any camouflage pattern at all. However the website of Fibrotex also includes photographs of another prototype implementation on an upgraded Merkava 3. This appears to have slightly better coverage (but still far from perfect) and a different camouflage pattern with more  contrast.

Interestingly Fibrotex also offers a thermal camouflage system for the Leopard 2A4, which includes rather thick add-on elements. These appear to be designed to reduce the tank's radar signature, development on this topic was popular in NATO during the mid-1980s. This resulted in a number of stealth demonstrators based on existing tanks such as the AMX-30, Leopard 1 and Chieftain MBT.

Dienstag, 19. Juli 2016

LAND 400 Phase 2 and 3 contenders update

The Australian Army is currently looking for replacements of the ASLAV and M113AS4 armored fighting vehicles (AFVs).

Phase 2 of the LAND 400 program seeks a replacment for the 13.2 tonnes ASLAV. The ASLAV is used by the Australian Army as scout vehicle, armored personnel carrier (APC), command vehicle, armored ambulance and also as support vehicle. It is either armed with a 25 mm Bushmaster chain gun (in case of the ASLAV-25 scout vehicle) or with a heavy machine gun on a pintle mount or on a Kongsberg remote weapon station (RWS). It transports up to either six or seven soldiers depending on version. Unlike current American and Canadian LAV versions, the ASLAV is only protected by thin steel armor providing protection according to STANAG standard 4569 level two or three.

Currently there are four contenders to replace the ASLAV: The AMV 35 CRV from Patria and BAE Systems, the LAV (CRV) from General Dynamics, the Sentinel II from Elbit and ST Kinetics and the Boxer CRV from Artec (a joint-venture between Rheinmetall and KMW). Originally more contenders including Raytheon and Nexter (offering the VBCI with French T40 turret) were looking for a LAND 400 Phase 2 contract; after considering their chances of meeting the Australian requirements - in particalur the military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) requirements - they withdrew.

While the offer from Patria and BAE Systems - consisting of a Patria AMV fitted with the E35 turret of the CV9035 - was known very well for the past weeks, a lot of new details have emerged on the other contenders. Supposedly Patria isn't offering the latest AMVXP with increased payload and performance, but the a version of the original AMV hull with higher compliance with the MOTS requirements.

As far as the other contenders are concerned, first and foremost of there is the LAV (CRV), a version of the Canadian LAV 6.0 upgrade modified to meet the Australian requirements. The LAV 6.0 itself is a modified and upgraded version of the old LAV III infantry fighting and scout vehicle.
The LAV (CRV) has the lowest gross vehicle weight of all contenders, sitting at just 28,600 kg. It is fitted with the unmanned MCT-30 turret from the Norwegian company Kongsberg. It features 8 smoke grenade dischargers (in 4 banks of 2 each), the Mk 44 Bushmaster II gun chambered in the 30 x 173 mm caliber from Aliant Techsystems (ATK), a low-profile version of the CROWS RWS and a laser warning system. An interesting side note is that the MCT-30 turret is fitted with the WAO sight from Airbus Defence, which is also used on the German Puma IFV. The US Army prefered to use a different - supposedly cheaper - sight unit for their Stryker upgrade with the MCT-30 turret. The fully stabilized WAO includes a daylight camera, a thermal imager and an eyesafe laser rangefinder.

The LAV (CRV) is also fitted with a 360° surveillance system consisting of three cameras. One is mounted on a mast above the rear ramp, while the other two are located on the frontal hull section. It uses a double-V hull desgin (like the late generation Stryker ICVs of the US Army) for advanced protection against mines and IEDs. For ballsitic protection the LAV (CRV) is fitted with ceramic composite armor on top of it's steel hull. However the ballistic protection of the LAV (CRV) is not able to keep up with the competition, offering only protection according to STANAG 4569 level 4 (all-round protection against 14.5 mm armor-piercing ammunition from 200 metres distance) on the hull. The turret is even less armored, not able to meet the level 4 requirements. According to General Dynamics the vehicle can be fitted with special deployment kits for increased ballistic protections, but this is expected to negatively affect mobility and payload, thus taking away the plattforms growth potential.

The Sentinel II has been a mysterium for quite a while, but ST Kinetics and Israeli company Elbit Systems have showcased their vehicle solution to the public for the first time. It is based on the current Terrex 3 vehiclee from ST Kinetics, but numerous technologies and components from Elbit and it's partners have been utilized. Frankly, due to the Terrex 3 being originally designed for high performance on water during amphibious operation, which are not possible with the heavier Sentinel II. The Sentinel II is fitted with the MT 30 (Manned Turret 30) from Elbit. This turret can be used in either manned or unmanned configuration and is equipped with a 30 mm Bushmaster II chain gun, a co-axial machine gun and a pop-out dual-launcher for Spike ATGMs. Like all other candidates, the vehicle is fitted with a digitial fire control system and stabilized gun to enable accurate firing on the move. The commander is provided with Elbit's COAPS (Commander Open Architecture Panoramic Sight), which includes a thermal imager, a CCD camera and a laser rangefinder. The gunner is provided with a similar set of optronics.Two banks of four smoke grenade dischargers are mounted on either side of the main gun.
Ontop of the turret two launchers of the new Iron Fist LC (Light Configuration) from IMI. This active protection system (APS) was first presented at Eurosatory 2016 and is a scaled down version of IMI's already existing Iron Fist APS. It launches a high explosive (HE) grenade onto an incoming threat that has been spotted by the radar. While the original version of Iron Fist has some anti-APFSDS capability (when the HE warhead fuzes at the right time, it can cause the APFSDS to tilt), the light configuration uses smaller warheads that are most likely inable to affect APFSDS. With only four interceptors ready for defeating RPGs and ATGMs, the Iron Fist LC is not suited for longer engagements, but is a useful asset in assymetrical warfare.
At the front and the rear of the turret a total of four laser warners are installed. These can detect when the vehicle is lazed by a rangefinder or beam-riding missile and may be connected to the APS or the smoke grenade dischargers.
A camera system located at the hull provides 360° close-range vision of the near terrain. The implementation is quite reminiscent of Rheinmetall's SAS 360° system, which has been installed on the Boxer CRV and other vehicles such as the Advanced Technology Demonstrator tank. It consists of three sets of each three cameras, that are set at different angles. On the rear there are only two cameras, while a further camera is located at the frontal hull - these cameras are possibly meant for the driver only.

Like the LAV(CRV) the Sentinel II fails to meet the original Australian requirements for ballistic protection. It only reaches STANAG 4569 level 4, depsite being the second-heaviest candidate for the phase 2 of the LAND 400 program. This is the result of the huge overall dimensions of the Terrex 3 hull, on which the Sentinel II is based. In fact the Sentinel II is the widest and tallest
While it is possible to boost the protection level to the levels protect against 25 mm and 30 mm ammunitions, this is only possible at certain, limited areas and not along the whole frontal arc like required by STANAG 4569. Furthermore this requires to reconfigure the turret into an unmanned configurations and reduce it's armor protection to STANAG 4569 level 2 only - which means being vulnerable to 7.62 x 51 mm NATO AP ammunition or equivalent and larger calibers. A designated marksman rifle or battle rifle would be enought to penetrate the armor and potentially knocking out the Sentinel II's weapon systems by damaging the fire control system, ammunition feed system or turret drives. Due to being designed as a manned turret, the MT 30 is not optimized for unmanned operations and wastes a lot of space and thus valuable weight, that could have been used for increasing the protection.

Overall the Sentinel II has three major drawbacks. The lackluster armor protection does not manage to meet the Australian requirements. Also the missile launcher is not decoupled, so that vibrations will be passed onto the missiles. On the long term this will cause issues as the missile can be damaged or rendered completely used in a not decoupled launcher, so the Spike ATGMs in Eblit's MT 30 turret would need to be stored at other places and only be fitted into the launcher before going to battle/on a mission.
The biggest problem of the Sentinel II is that it seem to completely fail the military off the shelf of the Australian Army. It seems to be an agglomeration of unproven and new parts: the hull is taken from the new Terrex 3, which is still unproven and not in service with any nation. The turret is a new design that has yet to be used on a series produced vehicle. Even the large version of the Iron Fist APS has yet to be fielded on a tank or any other type of vehicle - the brand new Iron Fist LC version is even more of a risk. Arguably the only proven systems are the laser warners, the COAPS sights (which have been chosen for the Argentinian TAM upgrade), the smoke grenade launchers and the Bushmaster chain gun.

Previously some basic infromations on the Boxer CRV have been written here aswell, thus only the newest developments seem to be worth mentioning. Photographs of a Boxer CRV with new features have been published on the internet. The Boxer has been fitted with a version of the ADS (Active Defence System), formerly known as AMAP-ADS. In the configuration as used on the Boxer CRV it includes at least 26 sensor units (maybe even more if the rear is also protected by ADS). Unfortunately this version of ADS appears to be incorporated into the additional armor modules on the side of the vehicle, which doesn't allow accurate counting of the exact number of ADS countermeasures; usually there is at least one countermeasure per sensor unit, in some cases even two.
ADS is capable of intercepting RPGs and ATGMs in all known versions, while the heavier versions are also capable of defeating explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and large caliber APFSDS ammunition. With an estimated 26 countermeasures, the ADS on the Boxer CRV is much better suited for longer combat operations than the Sentinel II with it's Iron Fist LC APS, however restocking the ADS might take longer.

The Boxer CRV also has been fitted with a dual launcher for Spike ATGMs, which is in contrast to the Sentinel II's launcher decoupled and allows long-time storage of the missiles directly in the launcher.
A new RWS fitted with a 12.7 mm M2 Browning heavy machine gun is located on top of the turret. Unlike most other types of RWS, this specific one does not have an own set of optics, but is rather slaved to the commander's periscope located on top of the turret. Such a weapon station design design was used on some other vehicles already, most noticable the Russian T-90MS main battle tank. Rheinmetall calls this a "killer-killer" functionality (in contrast to the hunter-killer functionality) and claims that this an unique feature of the Lance MTS among medium calibre turret thanks to the so called "Main Sensor Slaved Armament" (MSSA) technology. Most likely the RWS can be folded down, otherwise putting it on the Boxer CRV turret wouldn't make much sense, as the commander's sight was specifically modified to be retractable in order to reduce the overall height of the vehicle.

A rather curios move was made by Rheinmetall for the Phase 3 offering. The vehicle purchased under the phase 3 of the LAND 400 project is meant to be the replacement for the M113 variants in service with the Australian Army, most notably the  While it already is part of the PSM joint-venture offering the German Puma IFV for LAND 400 Phase 3, the German company has decided to make another offer with the Lynx. While Rheinmetall representatives and websites have tried their best to describe the vehicle as a new development and kept their lips sealed on the true nature of the Lynx, it is understood that this vehicle is just a heavily upgraded Marder IFV. A company now owned by Rheinmetall originally build the Marder, several hundred Marders were bought back by the industry and saved from scrapping.

The suggested APC version of the Lynx is fitted with a RWS and the ROSY smoke protection system
The Lynx is fitted with the same Lance MTS (modular turret system) turret as the Boxer CRV, however with slightly different armament. While it also includes a decoupled twin-launcher for Spike ATGMs, it was presented with a larger 35 mm autocannon as main gun and Rheinmetall's three-barreled RMG 7.62 machine gun. Unlike a gatling gun the latter weapon is fitted with three barrels to reduce barrel wear and it is possible to switch to another barrel within less than 5 seconds. Rheinmetall claims that this enables the user to switch to a cold barrel in the middle of combat, which leads to a higher accuracy and sustained rate of fire. The Lynx is fitted with Liebherr engine (depending on versio delivering either 750 hp or 1,050 hp), segmented rubber tracks from DST and a NBC protection. Iversionst's armor seems to be largely identical to the late version Marder IFV (1A3 and follow-up ), which utilized spaced steel armor for ballistic protection against up to 30 mm rounds. The side armor of the Lynx appears to be different, the spaced armor and storage boxes of the original Marder 1A3 were replaced by plates of steel or composite armor. The ADS has not been fitted, but according to Rheinmetall it is an option.

The armored recovery version of the Lynx vehicle is fitted with a crane
An interesting suggestion is creating two versions of the Lynx, one of them utilizing a stretched chassis. While as previously noted all existing offers for the Phase 3 have only a 3 + 7 configuration (assuming realistic amounts of internal storage space), the Lynx is offered as KF 31 and KF 41; the latter has a sligthly strechted hull (but the same number of roadwheels) to provide seating for a crew of three and up to eight dismounts, while the shorteer KF 31 has is designed for only six dismounts. Aside of the lower price compared to more expensive offerings such as the Puma IFV, this might be the main selling point of the Lynx IFV.
In general Rheinmetall claims that the Lynx armored vehicle family is making use of a modular approach - how modular this is exactly is not known yet. While the description from Rheinmetall - speaking of separate Base Vehicles and Mission Kits- is suggesting a concept similar to the Boxer, the Lynx doesn't appear to be compatible with Boxer mission modules. It also remains questionable if it is possible to change the mission kit of a Lynx during it's lifetime without major factory-based (re)work. The Lynx will be offered as turreted and non-turreted version for the different roles of the vehicles replaced under LAND 400 Phase 3.

Mittwoch, 13. Juli 2016

Future Leopard 2 improvments?

Despite the Leopard 2A7 being a relatively new tank - it was introduced into service in 2014 - the German Army is looking for further upgrades to it's main battle tank (MBT). When the Leopard 2A7 was being developed, the prototypes already included a number of features that had to be excluded from the series production version in order to keep costs at a reasonable level. The FLW-200 remote weapon station (RWS) and the close proximity surveillance system (consisting of CCD cameras either mounted to the turret or hull) and the dozer blade were among the left-out features of the Leopard 2A7+. 

Leopard 2A7+ UrbOps prototype with FLW 200 RWS, applique armor and close-proximity surveillance system
Already in the news articles on the handover of the first Leopard 2A7, a number of details on the Leopard 2's future were disclosed. The German Army had already initiated the development of the next iteration of the Leopard 2 tank before the handover. Two points for the next upgrade were mentioned: upgraded optronics ("sighting systems") should be installed into the tank and the lost agility (due to the weight increases and reduced ground clearance) should be restored to the level of the original Leopard 2 tank.

Under the name Leopard 2A7V (v for "verbessert", German for "improved") an upgrade for the current German variants is being developed. Once adopted, the designation is expected to be changed most likely to Leopard 2A8. Currently the German Army is operating three models of the Leopard 2 tank (the Leopard 2A6, 2A6M and 2A7), while still having about 100 old Leopard 2A4 tanks in stock, which are scheduled for upgrade in 2017 or later.
Operating three or even four different models of a tank is a logisitcal burden, which is why in the near future all tanks should be upgraded to one single configuration. Currently proposals for the future Leopard 2A7V are under way.

With a planned introduction as early as 2018, not much new technology can be accepted, that has not undergone the test and qualification phase of German Army procurments. The qualification phase for new technology in Germany is usually at least three years - this implies that mostly off-the-shelf components will be utilized. In theory some components might have been tested by the German arms procurement office in the past, but were never adopted for high cost or other reasons. Such components might be integrated into the tank without being well known to the public. There also might be an option for a special fast qualification procedure (this is only speculation though).
  • improved mobility by installing a more powerful engine
  • fitting a turret independent remote weapon station
  • improved mine and IED protection
  • passive or reactive protection against RPGs and ATGMs
  • installing an active protection system (APS)
  • automated target recognition and tracking
  • increased lethality (in particular armor penetration)
  • anti-UAV capabilities
  • improved networking 
  • an electronical 360° surveillance system
  • long range optics with improved thermal imagers
If any upgrade cannot be implemented by 2020, it shall be reapporached at a later point of time.

For improving the Leopard 2's mobility a number of factors need to be considered. While the Leopard 2A7 has a 15% higher weight than the original Leopard 2 from 1979, the ground clearance has been decreased considerably after adding the anti-mine plating of the Leopard 2A6M. Thus just replacing the engine might not be enough.

Space savings of the EuroPowerPack demosntrared on the Strv 122
An already existing upgrade option would be the EuroPowerPack, consisting of a MT883 engine from MTU and a Renk HSWL 295TM transmission. While usually running at only about 1,100 kilowatt (1,500 hp) on most applications (such as the tropicalized Leclerc and the Merkava 4 tank), it can run at 1,200 to 1,250 kW (1,630 to 1,700 hp). The smaller size of the MT883 engine would free about 1,000 mm of engine compartment length, space which could be utilized to fit more ammo, more fuel, a larger APU or computer systems belonging for example to an APS.
A slightly better, but also more expensive option would be the newer MT890 series from MTU. A successor to the MT883 engine was projected, but never fully developed. It would offer an output of about 1,200 kW, but at a further reduced size with lower fuel consumption. Overall the MT890 V12 engine would save approx. 20% space and 30-40% weight compared to the EuroPowerPack.
Another attempt to increase mobility could be made by adopting newer roadwheels and tracks. These could provide a larger contact area while being made of more weight-efficient materials.
For increasing the ground clearance the only options seems to be adopting a new suspension. This would be rather expensive and seems not to be feasible within the expected budget.

Leopard 2A5 with MUSS
For the active protection system there seem to be at most four options, assuming that no foreign active protection system has finished the testing and qualification phases of the German arms procurment agency to such a degree that it would be ready for series integration in 2018. The only really safe candidate is the MUSS softkill system, which has been incorporated into the Puma IFV. A prototype of the MUSS system was already tested on the Leopard 2A5, so integrating it into the Leopard 2A7V should be no issue. MUSS makes use of an IR jammer and a multi-spectral smoke screen generated by specialized smoke grenade dischargers to blind and confuse incoming anti-tank guided missiles. MUSS detects incoming missiles using optical UV sensors and laser warners. It is currently being considered by the British Army. The biggest drawback of MUSS is the inability to defeat "dumb" RPGs and kinetic energy penetrators (such as APFSDS),

AVePS launcher at a defence exposition in 2013
Diehl's AVePS is a modern version of the AWiSS hardkill protection system, which has been developed following studies for the German military in 1997. AWiSS used radar to track incoming missiles and RPGs and then launches a hardkill countermeasure at it. This consits of a small missile/fin-stabilized grenade with a high explosive warhead with hit fragmenting. The warhead detonates at a pre-calculated time and thus creates a cloud of metal fragments flying towards the incoming anti-tank missile. Between one and two launchers can be fitted on a vehicle, depending on type with either three or four barrels. 
AVePS is a more sophisticated version of AWiSS and is very similar to the Iron Fist APS from IMI, which is the result of cooperation and technological transfer between IMI and Diehl under the Mutual Active Protection System (MAPS) project. AVePS uses HE-blast grenades instead of HE-frag grenades, which pose less danger to nearby infantry. At the same time optimized blast grenades can be used to defeat APFSDS ammunition by exploding close the rod during flight, tilting the penetrator and effectively reducing the penetration by a large amount. AVePS is offered for tanks with two launcher units, each with four barrels. 
Both AWiSS and AVePS have been successfully tested by the German Army. AWiSS destroyed a MILAN-2 ATGM in trials during 2006, while AVePS managed to defeat RPG-7 and Panzerfaust-3 rounds in different tests in 2011.

ADS sensors and countermeasures fitted to Rheinmetall's Advanced Technology Demonstrator tank
The last known option would be ADS, developed by a joint-venture of IBD Deisenroth and Rheinmetall. ADS (active defence system) was formerly known as AMAP-ADS. Unlike most other types of APS (including AVePS), ADS uses a box-based countermeasure instead of a launcher-based approach, in which the countermeasure is delivered as missile or grenade. This gives ADS two major advantages: it can intercept incoming threats fired even when fired from shorter ranges (there is no launcher that needs to be rotated) and it poses less danger to nearby infantry.
ADS uses a larger number of optical sensors to accurately track the incoming missile, which then is engaged by one of the countermeasures. Unlike other APS, the ADS system doesn't require reloading after a few shots, as all countermeasures are ready to be fired at all times. 
The true nature of ADS' countermeasures has yet to be revealed. According to the manufacturer, it does not utilize a blast warhead, but is fragment free. Instead ADS would utilize "directed energy" to defeat ATGMs, RPGs, APFSDS projecitles and even EFPs (a capability currently unique to ADS). In theory ADS might launch fragment-free composite plates at the incoming missiles or use a DIME-like approach (launch "tungsten powder" at extremely high velocities).
On Rheinmetall's Advanced Technology Demonstrator tank, there are only nine countermeasures, all of them located on the turret. But this is apparently only a proof of concept, a real implementation would icnlude a much larger number of countermeasures.
On a side note, old presentations of MUSS suggested that integrating a hardkill system into MUSS would be possible and would be investigated in the future. At this time only AWiSS existed, so this was used in the presentation. It was suggested to fit an IR jammer to each hardkill launcher, fit the tank with the optical sensors of MUSS and newly developed radar systems. Thus MUSS could be used in combination with AVePS most likely ADS also. 

ROSY_L three times launcher
Last but not least, there is ROSY_L, a smoke obscuring system from Rheinmetall.It is not really an active protection system in the current configuration, but it is understood that this system can be automated to become an APS. ROSY_L was designed as a modular system and can be integrated with sensors already existing sensors on the vehicle. 
Such a ROSY_L APS would act similar to MUSS, using an array of 40 mm multi-spectral smoke grenades to create a smoke screen, that can stop TV, EO, IR, laser and SACLOS-guided weaponry. Compared to MUSS, such a ROSY_L system would offer some benefits in terms of available countermeasures, smaller countermeasure size (due to the smaller caliber, more smoke grenades can be carried inside the vehicle for reloading) and a complexity (using multiple fixed launchers instead of fewer rotatable launchers). However ROSY_L does not include an IR jammer and tries to compensate this with some IR-jamming and decoy capabilities in the countermeasures.
A total of 500 ROSY_L systems and more than 50,000 matching smoke grenades were purchased by the German Army in 2013.

Leopard 2 PSO
For passive protection there seems to be a wider array of options, given the relatively large amount of companies developing their own armor solutions. The Leopard 2A7 was originally presented with passive armor from KMW, which was designed to provide high levels of protection against shaped charges and EFPs. This armor solution dates back to the Leopard 2 PSO (peace support operations) testbed and has been fielded in a modified version on the Canadian Leopard 2A4M CAN. As several versions of this armor have been tested on different Leopard 2A7 prototypes, this should be available for the Leopard 2 upgrade. In fact the Leopard 2A7 is already designed with a common interface to easily accept the new armor.
IBD Deisenroth Engineering has developed a wide array of armor solutions, of which many are in service with the German Army. The Leopard 2A7V might adopt a version of their AMAP package, in particular the AMAP-SC composite armor might be suited to provide the desired levels of protection. AMAP-SC is claimed to have a mass efficiency of 8 to 10, which means that compared to conventional steel armor of the same weight, 8 to 10 times as much protection is provided.
In theory other suppliers of armor solutions - including non-German ones - might be able to participate in a tender for the armor, if their products have already been tested by the German military procurement office - at least RUAG is known to have supplied armor for the Fennek armored scout car in the past. While this armor was RUAG's SidePro-KE ceramic armor for ballistic protection, this might indicate that other armor solutions from RUAG, such as the SidePro-ATR and SidePro-CE armor have also been tested in Germany.
An interessting note is that German sources claim that the CLARA ERA of the Puma is also considered for the Leopard 2A7V. CLARA (composite lightweight adaptable reactive armour) has been developed by Dynamit Nobel Defence for protection against RPGs and EFPs. In contrast to conventional types of ERA, CLARA does not include metal plates and is considered fragmentation-free, so it doesn't endanger nearby infantry. CLARA offers a relatively high level of protection against kinetic energy and has a mass efficiency of more than 10 against shaped charges, but in it's current form it doesn't protect against tandem warheads. On the Puma IFV with it's heavy passive armor and APS this might not be an issue, but the Leopard 2's side armor is thinner. In theory there might be an option to develop a special variant of CLARA that offers full protection against shaped charges with tandem warheads, but in it's current form it does not completely suit the Leopard 2A7V.

The most likely choice for the remote weapon station (RWS) is KMW's FLW series. The FLW 100 and FLW 200 are combat proven and operational with the German Army since nearly a decade. From the two, the FLW 200 seems to be the more likely option, as this has been fitted to the ealier Leopard 2A7+ prototypes and the Leopard 2 PSO technology demonstrator. The FLW 200 can accept machine guns up to the 0.50 caliber or an automatic grenade launcher (AGL). Each FLW includes an own sensor pod with integrated fire control system (FCS) and allows adopting further smoke grenade dischargers onto the unit.
It has been rumored that the FLW 200+ is being suggested as possible option for the Leopard 2A7V. The FLW 200+ can accept larger and heavier weaponry - most importantly it can be fitted with the dual-belt fed 20 mm Rh 202 autocannon (and 100 rounds of ammunition), which is still in German Army stocks in large numbers (being used on the Marder IFV and the Wiesel 1). Compared to the 12.7 mm M2 Browning, the Rh 202 offers greater range and armor penetration aswell as the ability to fire HE rounds with a greater effect against a wider target spectrum.

Not directly mentioned by any German source, but certainly an interessting option would be the Dual FeWaS from Dynamit Nobel Defence. This weapon station can accept two heavy weapon systems (such as 12.7 mm HMG and a 40 mm AGL) or one heavy weapon system and up to two shoulder-launched weapons. DN Defence has showcased the weapon station fitted with versions of either its RGW-90 or Panzerfaust-3 RPGs only; however in theory there should be the options to integrate guided weapons - Rheinmetall presented a special RWS to hold and fire up to six guided weapons such as the Stinger MANPADS or MMP ATGM at Eurosatory 2016.
With such an upgrade, the Dual FeWaS could meeting two of the German Army's demands: serving as tureret independent weapon-station with a machine gun or an AGL, while at the same time defeating UAVs using MANPADS.

Laser weaponry is not an option for tanks yet
Other anti-UAV measures aside of a MANPADS implementation are not really available; while Rheinmetall and MBDA have tested military laser weapons to defeat UAVs, these tend to have a too high power requirement to retrofit them into a tank. So unless the tank will get equipped with a Stinger-like system, the only options to counter UAVs are jammers.
The German Army's wish for UAV-defeating capability on the Leopard 2 MBT is the result of analyzing combat footage and other data from the Ukraine conflict and the Syrian civil war, where even civilian UAV systems have proven to be valuable for ambushes and targeting of high-value targets for air- and artillery-strikes.

The Attica GL can be used to replace the outdated WBG-X in the EMES-15 main sight
The most likely choice for upgraing the tanks optronics would be by integrating the new third generation Attica thermal imager into the gunner's sight. The Attica GL thermal imager already replaced the Ophelios-P in the Leopard 2A7's PERI R17A3 commander's sight. The EMES-15 sight for the gunner however was retained on the German tanks. The usage of the Attica thermal imager seems to be a given fact, because the German Army prefered this over other products such as the Saphir thermal imaging system. However the informations on the future Leopard 2 upgrade speak of optics for long range identification of target, thus it appears possible that another version of the Attica thermal imager with greater magnification and resolution might be installed. Improving the daysight optics might also be a possible upgrade path for the Leopard 2.
For the 360° close proximity surveillance system, there are again at least two different options. Krauss-Maffei Wegmann has used a system on some of the Leopard 2A7 prototypes, which consisted of CCD cameras either fixed to the hull or rotatable cameras located on small masts in front of the turret side armor. The supplier and exact designations of these systems are not known yet. In the eyes of the author Rheinmetall's SAS Situational Awareness System should be a more mature solution. For a 360° coverage, the system consists of up to four sensor units, which are fitted to the turret or hull of the vehicle. Two of the sensor units are fitted with three CCD cameras each, while the other two are using thermal imagers instead. This system provides the desired close proximity surveillance both during day and night, while not having moving parts (like some implementations of KMW's system), which might break down.

The 130 mm L51 gun is not ready for production yet
An interesting aspect is that the improved version of the Leopard 2's L55 smoothbore gun - the L55A1 - is supposed to be ready for series production in 2018 according to Rheinmetall. Together with new ammunition, the L55A1 is claimed to provide about 20% more performance than the current version. This matches the dates for the finished Leopard 2A7V development and would explain how the lethality can be increased despite the new 130 mm L51 gun still being in development.

At Eurosatory 2016 KMW presented a new version of the Leopard 2A7, which appears to be a prototype proposal for the 2A7V upgrade. The tank itself appears to be a modified version of the same Leopard 2A7 tank that was already presented at the Eurosatory 2014.

This tank is fitted with new passive armor on the front of the hull, improved optics (understood to include the Attica GL in the EMES-15 primary gunner's sight) and the Spectus night vision system from Airbus for the driver. This tank still lacks an APS and a RWS. Further armor at the sides can be installed thanks to a modular protection concept.
A slightly more powerful APU - delivering up to 20 kW instead of only 17 kW - has also been installed on the tank. Such a move would be required for the adoption of an APS in the near future. KMW is expecting an order of this variant by 2018, however to this point of time further components might be fitted to the tank.